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◆Art talk

Volume 3 The drama of auctions

The next time you are in London or New York, as well as trailing round the usual museums and other tourist attractions, why don't you take the opportunity to visit an auction house? Many people don't attend auctions because they believe typical lots are paintings that go for millions of dollars. In fact, the average successful bid for the 110,000 or so items auctioned at Sotheby's each year is about $16,800 and 80% of all items are sold for less than $5,000. Auctions are part of life and they should be enjoyed, not shunned.

Everyone is familiar with the classic auction scene in which the auctioneer bangs his gavel to indicate the successful bid. Auctions are a simple, traditional way of selling works of art. Various people wish to sell works of art, the works are gathered together, an open auction is held on a certain day and each item is sold to whoever makes the highest bid.

When they think of Japanese buyers, many people tend to recall the purchases of high-profile impressionist paintings at stratospheric prices during the era of the bubble economy. The long history of Japanese collectors is not well known. Connoisseurs in Japan have been collecting impressionist works for at least a century. The passion for impressionist paintings persists to this day among Japanese collectors. In addition, modern and contemporary paintings, jewelry, art nouveau, art deco, and oriental art are popular at present. Japanese buyers' interests are becoming more diverse. For most aspiring collectors, it's usually best to start with prints since they tend to be more affordable than paintings.

The overseas art market has held up well, but buyers are more discriminating than they were during the bubble years. The price difference between top-tier works and the rest has widened. Although collectors are more discerning in their selection of works, they are willing to pay high prices for works of exceptional quality, regardless of the field. Indeed, first-class works of art have been commanding very high prices at auction, sometimes even exceeding those paid during the bubble.

A work of art sold at auction may not reappear on the market for a very long time. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy creates a compelling tension. Prospective buyers have to decide their bids in split seconds and the pleasure of making a successful bid for a coveted work is truly memorable. The fascinating drama one experiences at an auction can be found nowhere else.


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